As we have repeatedly stressed, the discovery of large gas fields off the coast of Israel, Cyprus, Egypt and Lebanon, has meant that the Eastern Mediterranean plays an important role in the geopolitics of energy. in the deep offshore it is only profitable in the long term and presents significant technical and economic challenges. Not only that: the political power that governs this area of the eastern Mediterranean rests with three authorities with whom it is necessary to deal, whose economic interests may diverge in the time. This reality puts a strain on the future prospects of this area, at least until the political dimension has been resolved in a secure way.
Large deposits of natural gas have been discovered in the EEZs of Egypt, Israel and Cyprus. The smaller EEZs of Syria and Lebanon have yet to be explored or confirmed. These discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean would have potential reserves of the order of 3.5 trillion cubic meters of gas, of which about half are proven reserves equivalent to those still available for Norway after thirty years of supply from the European Union. In particular, almost at the same distance from the coasts of their country, are the three deposits of Zohr (Egypt), Leviathan (Israel) and Aphrodite (Cyprus) respectively with proven reserves of 850, 450 and 140, for a total of 1,440 billion. of cubic meters. The leaders of these three countries came together to consider a common solution to commercialize this gas for export. There has been talk of the construction of an underwater gas pipeline to Greece and Italy, which would be a direct competitor of the Azerbaijani gas that crosses Turkey.
At the same time, the governments of Turkey and Libya have demarcated their EEZ borders, invading the EEZs of the countries listed above, creating additional sources of uncertainty and legal complications. Finally, Turkey’s show of strength by sending seismic vessels in preparation for exploration operations in the Greek EEZ only added to an already tense geopolitical climate. All these factors of uncertainty and potential conflicts are not conducive to the development of gas production in this area of the eastern Mediterranean. This situation does not prevent Egypt and Israel from producing, consuming and exporting gas from fields near their coasts, the ownership of which is not in question.
We come now to Turkey. It must be emphasized that there is a geographical misunderstanding: the great discovery announced on 21 August 2020 by President Erdogan is not located in the Mediterranean, but in the Black Sea. This is the Sakarya field located about 170 kilometers north of the Turkish coast. with a water depth of 2,110 meters and a total depth of 4,775 meters. According to public information, it was discovered by drilling a single well, the Tuna-1, carried out by the exploration ship Fatih (“the conqueror”, in Turkish). The reserves, initially announced at 800 billion cubic meters, were revalued by the operator TPAO (Turkish Petroleum Corporation) to 320 then to 405 billion cubic meters on 17 October 2020. A second Turkali 1 drilling is scheduled for November. A second exploration vessel, the Kanuni (“the legislator” in Turkish) is about to reach the Black Sea.
Sakarya has the advantage of being close to the Turkish market. If produced, its gas will supply the Turkish market, strengthen the country’s security of supply and improve its trade balance.
However, putting Sakarya into production in 2023 is a goal that ignores the timing of the gas industry. This finding will need to be confirmed before moving on to the design and construction of the production phase facilities of the project.
Let us not forget that Turkey’s ambitions are multidimensional and multifaceted. They have a direct impact on Europe from the Atlantic to the Caucasus via the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Obviously the geopolitical and religious dimensions take precedence over the others, and it is not clear whether they have their own strategic dimension or are simply tactics. That said, energy ambitions are very legitimate for any country, especially when it comes to security of gas supply.
Turkey’s gas supply is between 45 and 50 billion cubic meters per year; it is well diversified. The gas arrives west from the Turk Stream, which will gradually replace the historical route through Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria, north from the Blue Stream across the Black Sea at a depth of 2,000 meters, to the east from the border with Iran and to the north- east from the border with Georgia for Azerbaijani gas. In addition, two terrestrial LNG terminals (Izmir Aliaga, Marmara Ereglesi) and two floating LNG terminals (Etki and Dörtyol) have a total reception capacity of around 25 billion of cubic meters, of which only half is used, which leaves considerable flexibility; they receive liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Algeria, Nigeria, Qatar and other sources, most recently shale gas from the United States.
As for the TANAP (Trans Anatolian Pipeline) recently put into service, 6 billion cubic meters per year of Azerbaijani gas will transit in a first phase to Greece, which represents just over 1% of the needs of the European Union. . This is what remains of the “Southern Corridor” project, once studied under the name “Nabucco”, promoted by the European Union to reduce the Russian influence in the gas supply.
In short, these discoveries of large natural gas fields have determined an evident conflict, exacerbating the geopolitical problems already existing in a region that is certainly not simple from a geopolitical point of view.
We think of the fact that Israel is at war with Lebanon and the two countries do not agree on the course of their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs); Syria is in ruins, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues and the question of a possible EEZ for Gaza remains; Turkey still occupies the northern part of Cyprus, denies the island the right to have an EEZ and calls into question the Treaty of Lausanne which established, in 1923, the Greek-Turkish borders and finally, Libya is destabilized and at war civil, with foreign interventions that further complicate the stability of the region.
These discoveries considerably modify the energetic destiny of the states bordering the Levantine basin. Israel becomes a natural gas exporting power, Egypt initially meets its needs and plans to become a regional energy hub, Cyprus relies on its natural resources to achieve the reunification of the island. Similarly, Lebanon and Syria could consider exploiting their respective resources; Lebanon granted the first research / exploitation licenses and Syria did the same to the advantage, not surprisingly, of Russian companies. And once again Turkey plays a decisive role in this game.
But returning to Turkey, the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus (since 1974) is one of the components of the question. The novelty comes from Turkey’s reaction to the possibility of Cyprus exploiting the natural resources located in its EEZ. We recall that Cyprus delimited its EEZ with Egypt and Israel, signed with Lebanon and was in talks with Syria (before the conflict) on the basis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982). The island then granted research / exploitation agreements to various companies. The American company Noble Energy, the Italian-Korean consortium ENI-Kogas, the French Total, alone or in joint venture with ENI, and the American ExxonMobil ally of Qatar Petroleum have obtained the licenses.
Turkey, for its part, claims that Cyprus, like all islands in the Mediterranean, does not have an EEZ. Ankara, which does not recognize the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, has an arbitrary position on the subject, a position of its own: it believes that the islands have no EEZs in closed or semi-enclosed seas. .
Despite Turkish threats to oil companies working with Cyprus, there have been numerous exploratory drillings in the country’s EEZ and significant discoveries of natural gas in exploitable quantities: Noble Energy (discovery of a field containing 100 to 170 billion cubic meters of natural gas in block 12), ExxonMobil with Qatar Petroleum (from 170 to 230 billion cubic meters in block 10) and ENI with Total (large field not yet quantified in block 6).
Faced with these findings, Turkey has become even more aggressive, sending exploration and drilling vessels into Cypriot waters, accompanied by warships. Turkey carried out eight illegal polls in the EEZ of Cyprus. Apply the tactic of encirclement in Cyprus by constantly maintaining pressure on it, with, ultimately, full control of the island. His latest provocation, apart from the almost constant invasion of his EEZ, was the opening to exploitation and finally the colonization, on 8 October, of the closed quarter of Famagusta, a port city emptied of its population in 1974 and left by a ghost city.
In conjunction with the threat to Cyprus, a growing threat to Greece is growing. Since 10 August 2020, Turkey has deployed its seismic ship Oruç Reis, accompanied by naval military forces, to the Greek maritime space, up to the coast of Crete, forcing Greece to do the same. Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus conducted a joint military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean from 26 to 28 August, sending a clear message on the willingness of these countries to uphold respect for international law.
According to a statement by the French Ministry of Armed Forces, “Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy have decided to deploy a joint presence in the Eastern Mediterranean as part of the quadripartite cooperation initiative”. The Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, further specified that the Mediterranean “must not be a playground for the ambitions of some; it is a common good “.
The Turkish president specified on her part: “We will absolutely not make any concessions on what belongs to us. We urge our counterparts to […] beware of any mistakes that could pave the way for their undoing. Then he added: “Turkey will take what is rightfully its own in the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean […]. For this, we are determined to do whatever is necessary politically, economically and militarily.” The speech is was pronounced during a ceremony commemorating the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, which marks the entry of the Turks into Anatolia, following the victory of the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan over the Byzantines. The navies of the two countries are on the verge of clash August a Greek ship collides with a Turkish ship.
To the already complicated situation, Turkey has added a new element related to the Libyan conflict. Since the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, Libya has entered an area of instability in which many actors with diverging interests have submerged. Egypt, supported by the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, supports Marshal Haftar, who controls Cyrenaica. Russia is also in this field. On the contrary, Turkey, backed by Qatar, supports the Sarraj government, which controls the Tripoli region. Taking advantage of this support, Turkey signed two agreements (November 27, 2019) with the Tripoli master. One military, the other seafarer. The maritime continental shelf delimitation agreement between the two countries completely ignores the existence of Cyprus, Crete and other Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Furthermore, Erdogan’s desire to gain a foothold in the African continent and change the geopolitical situation in this area upsets many other international actors. Libya is for Turkey, one of the “entrances” to this space, hence his desire to establish permanent bases in this country.
This explosive geopolitical situation shows the need to develop cooperation in this troubled region. Cooperation between Cyprus, Greece and Israel quickly took shape. Others followed, involving Egypt and Jordan, again with the participation of Cyprus and Greece. Italy and France are also very present for the involvement of ENI and Total, but also to protect this common vital space that is the Mediterranean.
The signing, in early January 2020, of an interstate agreement between Israel, Cyprus and Greece, for the construction of the EastMed submarine pipeline, is one of the ambitious plans of this cooperation. At a cost of around 7 billion euros, this pipeline would allow the delivery of Cypriot and Israeli gas to mainland Greece, via Crete, and beyond to Italy and Western Europe (between 9 and 11 billion cubic meters / year, corresponding about 15% of European energy consumption in natural gas). Although economically this project is costly, geopolitically it is of utmost importance for building Europe’s energy independence. It should also be noted that in January 2019 the countries of the region created the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which aims to manage the future gas market – a coalition that includes Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Italy, Jordan and Palestine. Turkey denounces that this could threaten its interests. However, three other positive developments occurred during the summer of 2020: Greece proceeded with the delimitation of its EEZ with Italy and Egypt and this delimitation, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, obviously recognizes a EEZs for the islands.
Finally, the European Council reaffirms in its conclusions of 2 October 2020 its solidarity with Cyprus and Greece, specifying that sanctions would be adopted against Turkey if the latter continued to violate the EEZs of the two EU member countries ; Ankara immediately rejected the decision, saying its eastern Mediterranean research program would continue. Especially since the Oruc Reis is still in Cypriot waters and that Turkey has decided to open the closed district of Famagusta to exploitation, certainly for the purpose of imminent colonization, and this in violation of all the resolutions of international organizations. Turkey’s continued pressure on Cyprus is not only intensifying dangerously but Turkey is engaging in a lucid political projection of maritime power.